An Early start to Wildfire Season

April 14, 2015.pmdDespite what some local residents are calling round one of a possible horrific fire season, no more restrictive bans are planned for Teller County in the near future.
In fact, authorities say the local region is in relatively decent shape from a moisture perspective.
But when it comes to high winds and red flag warnings, Mother Nature bats last. As a result, local residents are urged to use common sense when it comes to having barbecues, lighting campfires and smoking outdoors.
That’s according to Steve Steed, manager of Teller County’s Office of Emergency Management. Compared to Colorado Springs and other locales in the region, he said Teller is doing much better and doesn’t see any reason to initiate a strict fire ban. And with spring rains predicted, Steed is confident about not having to initiate a county-wide fire ban, a move that can negatively impact summer visitation.
Still, officials concede that concerns are mounting regarding the upcoming fire season. Much community angst has been created over the devastating wildfires that have struck the Pikes Peak region in recent years.
Teller County encountered its first major fire last week, dubbed the Western Hills blaze, which scorched a 100-acre area near Teller 11 and Teller 1. This fire danger forced the evacuation of scores of families and quickly reminded locals that wildfire season has arrived.
Residents of the Highland Meadows and High Chateau subdivisions were evacuated in the late afternoon of April 7. But most residents were allowed to return to their homes several hours later.
According to Steed, the cause of the fire is still under investigation. He said the Colorado Bureau of Investigation is heading the inquiry into the Western Hills blaze.
Due to the quick response of a bevy of agencies, including the Northeast Teller County Fire Protection District and departments from Divide, Florissant, Four Mile, Cripple Creek and Green Mountain Falls, as well as the El Paso County Wildland Task Force, the blaze was tamed within hours. The response effort was heavily praised in Facebook posts by residents.
In addition, the Red Cross responded and an evacuation site was set up at Cripple Creek High School. However, few of the residents forced to evacuate used this site.
According to Steed, the biggest obstacle in fighting the fire was high winds that reached 35 to 40 miles per hour.
But similar to what happened during the devastating Hayman fire of the summer of 2002, the biggest blaze in Colorado’s history, scorching winds became the real menacing threat.
Current conditions indicate that grassy areas are still quite dry, but the trees are still holding a decent amount of moisture, according to Steed. He rated the current fire conditions as moderate to high.
“We have had pretty good moisture this winter,” said Steed, who is cautiously optimistic about not having to issue any more restrictions.
Throughout the state, an extremely dry March and early April has created significant fire threats. Emergency service officials are concerned that dried-out grasslands combined with high winds make for perfect wildfire conditions.
Teller officials aren’t letting their guard down.
Currently, Teller has issued restrictions that suspend all burning permits. Campfires are permitted in designated areas, along with outdoor cooking. But extreme caution is urged, especially with the use of charcoal grills. For more information about these restrictions, visit the county’s website: www.co.teller.co.us.
“People have to really use common sense. If the wind is blowing really strong, don’t do any burning,” said Steed.
Although Teller has held its moisture levels much better than areas down the Pass and in the Front Range, some residents are nervous.
In fact, “Here we go again,” became the catch phrase of many in the wake of the Western Hills blaze.
On Sunday, reports circulated of smoke in the area. But officials learned this threat was associated with a fire in Park County, called the Snyder Creek II blaze.
This fire, which was started three miles southeast of the Kenosha Pass Overlook, was estimated at 250 acres. It was caused by “human shooting,” according to the authorities from the U.S. Forest Service.
Local, state and federal officials are closely monitoring conditions.